The Hard Place #1 

Writer:  Doug Wagner
Artist:  Nic Rummel
Colorist:  Charlie Kirchoff
Letterer:  Frank Cvetkovic
Publisher:  Image Comics

Review by John Dubrawa

The Hard Place #1 lives up to its namesake by placing its main character smack-dab in the middle of precarious situation by the issue’s manic conclusion. What’s even crazier, however, is that this new miniseries from Image Comics has another four issues to go. If this introductory issue is an indicator, writer Doug Wagner and artist Nic Rommel have a surprisingly nuanced story to tell within the confines of a very familiar plot. You know the one: former law breaker gets released from jail. Said lawbreaker swears his life of crime is a thing of the past. That past catches up with him and reels him right back in. That’s The Hard Place in a nutshell, but there’s so much to dig into.

Wagner’s script finds its protagonist, AJ, as mentioned, on a new road in his life, hoping to leave his past in the rear view mirror. He’s a former wheelman (read: getaway driver) for a real evil crime boss — if you remember a particular scene in American History X vividly, you may want to turn away at some point in this issue — that isn’t quite finished with AJ.

Yet Wagner doesn’t just settle for the trope of “former criminal trying to do right,” no, he regards AJ like an addict who can no longer even drive a car for fear of what has happened  (which we get briefly in flashbacks) and what might happen. It’s a subtle move to have AJ insist on taking a taxi everywhere he goes within this first issue, but it’s one that creates a much more nuanced character on the page than the plot would have you believe.

The other aspect of The Hard Place #1 that subverts expectation is in Rummel’s art. Typically, a story like this — with a title such as this one — evokes a kind of gritty, realistic art style but that’s not what Rummel brings to the book. Instead, his characters are all drawn with heavy, dark lines and take on a lot of sharp angles, reminiscent a bit of Chris Bachalo. It not only gives the book a more unique look all around, but it adds a certain harshness to the characters that is only exemplified by their actions on the page.

Charlie Kirchoff’s colors bring Rummel’s linework to life, bathing the book in a very subtle color palette that often uses one primary color to effectively tell the story of the scene. Letterer Frank Cvetkovic takes what can be some lengthy bits of dialogue in certain scenes and places them in such a way that no one’s hard work gets overlooked or sacrificed. This art team has a strong showing in this first issue and I can’t wait to see what they deliver in the next four.

Buy! It’s easy to get swept up in a crime story that involves an ex-criminal that just can’t outrun his former life, and that’s precisely what The Hard Place #1 is all about. Writer Doug Wagner finds at the center of his story a more nuanced, troubled protagonist than we’re used to seeing in this oft-used plot, which adds a certain intrigue to this miniseries moving forward. Nic Rummel’s artwork has an equally fascinating look to it as well, going against the norm for these types of stories and presenting something wildly different on the stands right now.

John Dubrawa

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